When I was a little girl, I loved princesses. I enjoyed reading fairy tales and watching movies about them. My mom would often find me dressed up from head to toe pretending to be a princess. The best part of any good princess story is when the prince comes onto the scene, saves the princess from the impending danger, professes his love for her, and whisks her away to be his bride. Little did I know that God had a plan to fulfill this childhood dream of mine.
When I was about nine years old, my mom read to me a different kind of story that captivated me and left an impression on me forever. It was the story of St. Therese. I was so in awe that she entered the convent at such a young age and gave her whole life to Jesus. This was the first seed that the Lord planted in my heart about religious life. Even though I had never seen any nuns, and I didn’t entirely know what it meant to be a nun, I knew that I wanted to be like St. Therese. When I was only eleven years old, Jesus led me to this community. I attended a vocations day for girls out at our monastery, and on that day Jesus captured my heart. It was my first time seeing real sisters. As they stood on the porch and on the front yard welcoming all the girls, I was immediately struck by their beautiful and authentic joy. During that fun day with the sisters, I felt completely at home. I remember sitting and listening to one of the sisters give her testimony and thinking: “This is where I want to be for the rest of my life.” It was a total grace from God! I can’t even begin to explain the joy that I felt in my heart that day. At the end of the day, as my parents drove me home, I knew deep in my heart that he was calling me to this community.
During junior high and high school, I tried to push the idea of religious life out of my head many times, but I couldn’t deny the happiness I felt on that day I spent with the T.O.R. Sisters. Despite my stubbornness, Jesus continued to pursue my heart. In high school, I began to go to Eucharistic Adoration daily. My family lives right next to a church with a Perpetual Adoration chapel, and after school I would go there and spend time with Jesus. During times of sadness and during times of joy I ran to him in the Eucharist and poured my heart out to him. As I look back, I can see how Jesus was gently drawing me closer to his heart. In high school, I also attended the Festivals of Praise at Franciscan University and as I experienced the beauty of praise, I found greater freedom in Christ. During Adoration as well as during praise and worship there were many times when I felt the Lord placing religious life on my heart. Although I did have moments of accepting the thought of religious life, for the most part I tried to push it aside.
I attended Franciscan University for college. This was such a blessed period in my life, and Jesus really used this time to form me. During my freshman year in college, I went on a mission trip to New Mexico over spring break. While on the mission trip, I worked with the Little Sisters of the Poor. They are a beautiful religious community whose mission is to the elderly. It was such a blessing to work with these humble and caring sisters. On one of the last nights of the mission trip, the sisters hosted a Holy Hour to pray for vocations. A sister read the Gospel passage in which Jesus calls his apostles. After listening to his Word, I opened up my heart and I told the Lord: “If you want to say something, I will listen.” He placed these words on my heart: “Be not afraid. Come and follow me.” I felt his love surround me in a way that I had never experienced before. I knelt before Jesus in the Eucharist, and I wept. When the Holy Hour ended, and everyone had cleared out of the chapel, I found that I couldn’t leave. I didn’t want to leave Jesus again. For weeks, I replayed that moment in my head. As the weeks turned into months I began to deny his call for my life once again.
Less than a year later, Jesus took me on another adventure. This time, he led me to Austria, where Franciscan University has a study abroad program. It was one of the craziest and blessed semesters of my life. I embarked on this journey in hopes of finding romance, beauty, and adventure. The Lord pursued my heart in Europe, and despite all of my attempts to forget about religious life, I found myself thinking about it more than ever. Europe is filled with holy pilgrimage sites, and I was privileged to visit many. Our Lady was interceding for me in a quiet and yet powerful way; during that semester, I was even able to travel to Lourdes, Fatima, and Medjugorje. On each trip that I took, Mother Mary was praying for me; she was praying that my heart would be open to hear Jesus’ still, soft voice. About half way through the semester, I came to a point where I began to pray about my vocation. Deep in my heart, I knew that I was called to religious life. I couldn’t help but think back to that day when I came to our monastery as a little girl; I couldn’t help but remember the joy and peace that I felt on that day. Eventually my prayer to the Lord was this: “Jesus I know that you want me to enter religious life, but can you just tell me for sure? Can you confirm this?” About midway through the semester the school took a ten day trip to Rome and Assisi. It was beautiful, and the Lord worked in my heart in a powerful way during this pilgrimage. While I was in Rome, I had the opportunity to pray before the tomb of Blessed John Paul II. As I knelt there praying and asking for his intercession, the Lord placed the words, “Be not afraid” on my heart once again. My friends were about to leave, but I motioned for them to wait. There was something that I still wanted to do. I went up to the guard who watches over the tomb and asked him to place my rosary on Blessed John Paul II’s tomb. Before I had an opportunity to do this though, a little nun scurried in front of me and asked the same question. The guard opened up the rope and motioned for her to go in. She gratefully knelt down and prayed. After she finished praying, I asked the guard to place my rosary on the tomb, and he motioned for me to go in. As I knelt there praying, I had a sense of Blessed John Paul II’s powerful intercession in my life, and I knew that he and all of the saints in heaven were rooting for me. Our next pilgrimage brought me to Assisi; it was incredible. During that trip, my prayer was this: “Lord I am almost positive that you want me to be a T.O.R. Sister, but could you just confirm this for me? Could you just tell me for sure?” On one of the last nights in Assisi, we had a night of praise and worship before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The priest processed with the Eucharist, and then he placed the monstrance on the altar and spoke these words: “The Lord is confirming religious vocations tonight, and he is setting your hearts on fire with a desire to do his will.” These words were from the Lord, and they spoke directly to my heart. I knew that Jesus wanted me to enter the T.O.R. Sisters. The second part of that prayer became my reality. I knew that Jesus was calling me to enter religious life, and I wanted to do his will more than anything; I finally recognized that religious life is the deepest desire of my heart.
My heart was set on fire with a love for Jesus and a desire to follow him. I longed to give my life entirely to Jesus. After that amazing and grace-filled semester, I contacted the community when I arrived home. A couple of months later I was driving to a vocations discernment retreat weekend. I was nervous, but very excited at the same time. As soon as I pulled into the driveway of our monastery, the feeling of being at home washed over me again. That weekend, the Lord continued to confirm that this is where he is calling me. At the end of the retreat, the vocations director asked me how the weekend went. I burst into tears and said: “I think that this is where I am supposed to be.” They were tears of relief and tears of joy, for I knew that I was following the Lord’s will.
It is such a blessing to look back on the way that Jesus has brought me here and pursued my heart. Jesus Christ is my Prince, who died to save me from my sins, so that I can live with him forever. He has captured my heart, and he continues to take me on adventures everyday. It has been a beautiful journey so far, and as I continue to follow Jesus, I look forward to all that he has planned.